Typos p. 90: Xenephon [= Xenophon]; p. 102: Völkerkünde [= Völkerkunde]
The Matriarchal Myth Part II
According to this theory, which has met with the widest acceptance in recent years, particularly among prejudiced and ill-informed people, matriarchy was the original and most primitive form of government; during its supposed existence humanity lived in a golden age of archaic feministic bliss, and it is only through the brutality of man that it ultimately passed away among the ancestors of most civilized races, leaving behind but faint traces of its original prevalence in the marriage and other social customs of existing primitive societies.
The history of how this belief came to be so widely
So many learned treatises have contained doctrines which, in their ultimate popularization, have led to misunderstandings of natural facts in the minds of the unscientific public, that it will surprise no one to hear that, over this matter of the relative capacity for dominance in man and woman, in which so much heated prejudice and emotional reaction are involved, the grossest errors of interpretation have come to be accepted as scientific fact.
Everybody knows, for instance, that Spencer's phrase "the survival of the fittest," has popularly been thought to mean the survival of the strongest, and that not only members of the general public, but trained thinkers as well can still be found who are guilty of this misunderstanding. In his own lifetime Spencer had to combat this erroneous view among the learned, 1 and it still holds a firm position in the popular mind, where the doctrine of organic evolution is supposed to postulate a principle of general amelioration, because of the identification of the survival of the fittest with the supposed survival of what, humanly speaking, is the most desirable.
What happened with this essential law of evolution has also happened with Darwin's doctrine of human descent. Millions of unscientific Europeans to-day continue to believe that, according to Darwin, man has descended from the kind of monkeys which they occasionally behold in their zoological collections; and it will take generations of re-education to eliminate this belief from their minds.
Now, about sixty-five years ago, a book was published
1 See his controversy with Mr. Martineau, The Contemporary Review, June, 1872.
Briefly stated, Bachofen's doctrine amounted to this: the ideas about the beginnings of human society which, probably through the influence of the patriarchal organization of the ancient Israelites, led most people in Western Civilization to suppose that in primitive mankind, descent, kinship and inheritance were always traced, as they are among ourselves, through the male line, were largely unfounded and mistaken; because it might be demonstrated without much difficulty that, not only among many primitive societies, but also among the early ancestors of certain civilized peoples, both descent, inheritance and family name and traditions were traced through the female line.
This conclusion led Bachofen to call his book Das Mutterrecht (Mother-Right) and in its pages to speak of a certain gynæcocratic family right whenever he found the phenomenon of kinship or inheritance traced through the female line. And, as he advanced an enormous amount of evidence to demonstrate the prevalence of this alleged gynæcocratic family-right, the implication was that human society in its beginnings must, with but few exceptions, have been gynæcocratic and not patriarchal. He knew how novel this doctrine was, and, in his lengthy introduction, he pointed out that matriarchy would sound to his contemporaries as strange as it would have sounded to the men of antiquity. 1
As is usual in the case of a scientific theory of startling novelty, this doctrine of the matriarchal beginnings of
1 Fremdartig steht das gynäkokratische Familienrecht nicht nur unsern, sondern schon dem antiken Bewusstsein gegenüber."
Like the mistake about the survival of the "fittest," the error arose through the use of misleading terminology. But whereas in Spencer's case, the use of the word fittest was justified, carefully thought over, and only decided upon when its precise connotation had been clearly stated; in Bachofen's case, the word "gynæcocratic," as applied to the phenomena the author was discussing, was carelessly and thoughtlessly chosen and yet its meaning was so obvious to anyone with a knowledge of etymology, that misconception was inevitable.
Thus, while the phenomena that Bachofen was discussing consisted chiefly of those derivatives of the institution of Mother-Right in many primitive and civilized societies, which arise from various causes unconnected with the supposed dominance of women, Mother-Right was widely understood to mean Mother-Rule; and matriarchy, or the dominion of women, of which in its pure form no trace has ever been known, was believed to have been either universal, or almost so, in the beginning of human history.
Let us examine how the confusion arose. Various phenomena, most of them irregularly correlated, cluster round the institution of mother kinship in primitive societies. But, the important principle behind them all,
The causes which led to tracing descent through the female are more or less thoroughly understood. This much, however, is certain, that, just as in animals, the mother relation is always clearly established, whereas the father may be doubtful or, in some cases, quite unknown, so at given levels of human development a similar uncertainty regarding paternity is likely to exist. 1 It has been suggested that this uncertainty may arise either through the sexual ignorance of savages 2 and their failure to associate copulation with procreation, or through the promiscuity of sexual relations, whereby the identity of the male procreator cannot be determined. A third ingenious suggestion recently made by an eminent psycho-analyst is to the effect that mother-right is an institution deliberately created by man to ward off from savage societies the direst effects of the dipus Complex. 3 "The motive, according to this view, in both cases [i.e., in the case of sexual ignorance and the institution of mother-right] is to deflect the hatred towards his father felt by the growing boy." 4
Whichever of these explanations of the genesis of mother-right, in the sense of mother-kinship, may be the right one, does not really concern us much here; because we are interested not with the etiology of mother-right as a fact, but rather with the nature of its working.
1 See Ed. Sydney Hartland, Primitive Society, p. 159: "Speaking of mankind generally, it seems clear, from all that we know, that the earliest kinship to be recognized was that of mother and child. The corporal relation between mother and offspring is patent from the first, while the recognition of that between father and child depends upon physiological knowledge and reasoning, which are even yet not achieved by some of the lowest races." (Hartland's whole discussion of this question is thoroughly worthy of attention, and is most illuminating.)
2 This is in fact Hartland's conclusion.
3 See "Mother-Right and the Sexual Ignorance of Savages," by Dr. Ernest Jones (The International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, Vol. VI, Part VI, 1925).
4 See p. 12 of the reprint of Dr. Jones' paper.
Be this as it may and, as I have already said, the origin of mother-right does not concern us deeply here the characteristic features of those societies in which mother-right prevails (and such societies are very numerous) are very briefly as follows:
(a) That descent is traced through the female line, i.e., matrilineally.
(b) That succession of rank (chieftainship, rulership, etc.) may, and usually does, pass from a man to his sister's son, not to his wife's son i.e., it is often transmitted through the female instead of through the male. This rule is sometimes broken, and in societies where matrilineal descent prevails, succession may be patrilineal.
(c) That property is inherited through the female. It may actually be held by the female, but this is rare. As a rule it is transmitted to the sister's son, although there are instances in matrilineal societies of property inherited from the father.
There is no hard and fast rule about (b) or (c).
(d) That residence may be with the wife's people,
(e) That authority usually resides not in the person of the husband, but in some male relative of the wife, usually her brother, and the children thus fall under the rule of their maternal uncle. It is very rare indeed that authority, even in the households of people having matrilineal and matrilocal institutions, is wielded by the mother; and thus "matriarchy, or a gynæcocratic organization of society, is hardly found, despite the prevalence of mother kinship."
Now it is simple to see how the misrepresentations of mother kinship have occurred; for, if we bear in mind the tendency of early travellers, and of early students of ethnography encouraged no doubt by an emotional bias against masculine dominance to read matriarchy into purely matrilineal and matrilocal customs, we immediately understand the gross perversion of facts that cannot fail to arise.
For if, without inquiry into the sex of the ruling executive of matrilineal societies, which is invariably male, we assume that, wherever descent or property passes down the female line, authority is vested in the females, we are likely to obtain an absolutely distorted picture of the actual facts.
Rule by women, however, even in mother-right societies is almost unknown. 1 It is so seldom encountered that W. H. Rivers could only discover three examples of it 2 among the Iroquois, the Seri Indians, and the Khasis. And yet all that this alleged "matriarchy" amounted to among the Iroquois was that the women participated in the election of the male chiefs. "Once
1 See Hartland, Op. cit., p. 33. "The rule by women, however, is a rare form of organization. More usually the clan and the family are ruled by men, descendants of the women through whom kinship is traced."
2 Op. cit.
Among the Seri Indians, the women do indeed sometimes put their decisions into execution themselves; but usually their brothers constitute the executive of the power; while with the Khasis of Assam, although property is transmitted through women and held by women alone, political power is transmitted indeed through women, but is held by men. "In other words," says Sir James Frazer, 2 "the Khasi tribes are, with a single exception, governed by Kings, not by Queens. And even in the one tribe which is nominally ruled by women, the real power is delegated by the reigning Queen or High Priestess to her son, her nephew, or a more distant male relation." 3
Of course, where, owing to what cause soever, matrilineal or matrilocal conditions prevail, and where property and rank are inherited through the female, it follows that, in the event of any elevation in the general level of the community, women may come to be considered very much more highly than where other institutions prevail. For instance, a man, by marrying a particular woman, may avail himself of the only access there is to a certain position, either of property or of power. This, however, does not mean that the woman he marries
1 Op. cit., p. 80.
2 Adonis, Ottis, Osiris, Vol. II, p. 210.
3 In another respect the alleged approximation to matriarchy among the Khasis seems to be very remote, for we read in Major P. R. T. Gurdon's account of them (The Khasis. London, 1907, pp. 80, 81): "The rule of monogamy is not so strict for the husband as it is for the wife, he can contract an informal alliance with another woman, the only prohibition being that she must not belong to the original wife's village. Such a wife is called Ka Tynga Tub, literally, stolen wife, in contradistinction to the legally married wife Ka Tynga Trai." The children, however, of the stolen wife "cannot claim ancestral property except in the War country."
Ancient Egypt was certainly an example of a community which, originally matrilineal and matrilocal, rose to a high level of civilization, without abandoning its early institutions. But in Egypt the executive of government always remained in the hands of the men, and even if the Pharaoh acquired his throne through marrying his sister, it was he not she who exercised authority in the land. 1 Although Egyptian women had full powers of inheritance, they had no power of dealing with their property. 2
Again, among the Papuasians, we find what appear to be very substantial female privileges. But when we inquire closely into them we discover, as a matter of fact, that they were non-existent. Speaking of these people, A. H. Keane says: "Mother-right is prevalent, descent and inheritance being counted on the mother's side, while a man's property descends to his sister's children. At the same time the mother is in no sense the head of the family; the house is the father's, the garden may be his, the rule and government are his, though the maternal uncle sometimes has more authority than the father." 3
Thus, although, through the misrepresentation of matrilineal, matrilocal, and other mother-right customs among primitive and other societies, numbers of careful investigators have undoubtedly been led to infer that
1 See A. Géraud-Teulon: Les Origines du Mariage et de la Famille, Paris, 1884, p. 244: "Elle [la reine en Egypte] ne conduit qu' exceptionnellement le gouvernement, mais on dirait que le roi ne peut exercer le pouvoir suprême que sous les auspices de la reine." On this point see also Sir James Frazer, Adonis, Ottis, Osiris, Vol. II.
2 See Francis Llewelyn Griffiths, M.A., Ph.D. (Encyclopædia Britannica, Article "Egypt").
3 Op. cit., p. 144.
An interesting problem arises, and that is to determine how, in those communities where matrilineal customs have led to a certain modicum of female dominance, this dominance has come into being. I have already alluded to two possible sources of it the increase of prestige among women in an ascending culture, where property or rank descends through them (Egypt), and the tendency in all societies, whether matrilineal or patriarchal, for women to gain the ascendancy as fast as their menfolk degenerate (ancient Greece and Rome, France in the eighteenth century). These influences may operate together, or separately; but I have not yet made it clear how the second influence, the degeneracy of men, reacts on the women so as to bring about the change in the position of the latter.
The history of most cultures seems to teach the following moral: that the relation of the sexes is always a fluctuating balance of male and female elements, and that at every stage in social development, the bisexual components of each man and each woman tend to assert themselves to the utmost of their capacity, within the limits allowed by the values and the customs of the people. The check upon the expression by the male of his latent femininity thus consists of (a) virile values, (b) masculine pursuits, (c) the single-minded preoccupation with male problems, and (d) the process of selection, which, operating through the taste imposed by the values, tends to keep down the proportion of males with prominent feminine characteristics. Thus the femininity of the male, where such checks exist, becomes what psychologists term recessive, and may remain latent for centuries,
Surrounded by males who maintain masculine standards, and who are capable of giving the highest expression to masculine ability and taste, the male elements in women tend to grow furtive, timid, and averse from expression. A woman then knows that she only makes herself ridiculous by trying to measure her rudimentary maleness against masculinity of the full fledged brand. In an environment of masculine men, therefore, her femininity tends to be expressed with boldness, and selection operates in favour of females with only latent masculinity. 1
The moment, however, she finds, as she does in periods of male degeneracy, that the expression of her latent masculinity does not make her appear ridiculous that is to say, that the amount of her masculinity can without appearing absurd by comparison, be measured against the
1 For an example of the manner in which, in declining societies, selection operates in favour of masculine females and feminine males, the following passage from Mommsen about the women of Rome under Cæsar, is exceedingly instructive. Speaking of the fashionable season at Baiæ and Puteoli, Mommsen, says: "There the ladies held absolute sway; but they were by no means content with this domain which rightfully belonged to them, they also acted as politicians, appeared in party conferences, and took part with their money and their intrigues in the wild coterie doings of the time. Anyone who beheld these female statesmen performing on the stage of Scipio and Cato and saw at their side the young fop as, with smooth chin, delicate voice, and mincing gait, with headdress and neckerchiefs, frilled robe and women's sandals, he copied the loose courtesans might well have a horror of the unnatural world in which the sexes seemed as though they wished to change parts" (Op cit., pp. 3923).
This does not mean that the female with strong male elements is necessarily to be deprecated. For, provided her male environment is always sufficiently beyond her in masculinity to make her male side recessive, no harm is likely to arise, and the multiplication of malish women then contributes without evil results to the cultivation of a virile people. This happened in Sparta, and was successful from the ninth to the fourth century B.C., without the appearance of a woman's movement, because until the fourth century there was no marked degeneration of the male. It also happened in England. And the presence of a large proportion of masculine women in our midst to-day is not in itself a proof of the degeneracy of our men. For, as a virile culture, we required masculine women, who would not introduce too much of the feminine element into our stock. It is the present unadaptedness of these women, their present free expression of their maleness at the cost of their femaleness, which is a sign of male degeneracy, because it means that their menfolk have not remained sufficiently beyond them in male characters, to make their masculinity recessive.
The question, therefore, is whether there are always signs of masculine degeneracy, accompanied by female virility, in societies where women tend to dominate. The test is, whether the male elements in the woman are being freely expressed. That there were such signs in ancient Athens, Rome, and eighteenth-century France, I have already shown. The fact that the hetairæ of Athens consorted with the philosophers, and instructed so famous a man as Socrates, is a comment
1 For a treatment of this question in relation to modern marriage, see my Woman: A Vindication, Chapter VII, pp. 1602.
1 For a ruthless and penetrating analysis of Socrates and his philosophy see Nietzsche, The Twilight of the Idols (English translation by A. M. L., 1911), pp. 916. See also that profound thinker and sage, de Quincey (Vol. X of the Complete Works, A. C. Black & Co., pp. 1801): "Confining our notice to people of celebrity, we may say that the house of Socrates (Domus Socratica is the expression of Horace) were those who next attempted to popularize Greek prose viz., the old gentleman himself, the founder of the concern, and his two apprentices Plato and Xenephon. We acknowledge a sneaking hatred towards the whole household, founded chiefly on the intense feeling we entertain that all three were humbugs." For vulgarities of Plato's style, see same essay, p. 188; and for critical condemnation of Plato see de Quincey's Essay on Plato's Republic.
2 At this period Roman mistresses inflicted the cruellest punishments on their female servants for the most trifling offences, such, for instance, as the misplacing of a single lock of hair in their elaborate coiffures. The female slave attendants on a Roman lady during her early morning toilet were, in fact, expected to appear stripped to the waist, so as to enable her, if she wished, or if she were annoyed at anything, to stick pins into their arms and breasts, or to beat them while they performed their duties. Apparently flogging a slave was also a source of entertainment to these women. For a detailed account of the most horrible scenes between exalted Roman ladies of the first and second centuries A.D. and their female slaves see Sabina, by C. A. Boettiger (Leipzig, 1806), Vol. I, pp. 285326, and Vol. II, pp. 1738. For confirmation see Juvenal's 6th Satire, 475496, and Ovid, Ars Amatoria, III, 235243, Amores, I, xiv, 1518; Martial, II, 66.
I have said that not more than three races have been found in which an approach to true matriarchy has been noticed the Iroquois and the Seri Indians, and the Khasis of Assam. But, truth to tell, the prominence of women exists in other American tribes the Hurons and the Chucunaque, for instance. While reminding the reader, therefore, that even among the Iroquois, the Seri Indians, and the Khasis, the executive remained in male hands, although the female population had a share in electing those who wielded it (among the Seri Indians the women sometimes put their decisions into execution themselves), let us endeavour to discover the reason for the development among these peoples, and among the Hurons and Chucunaque, of a certain amount of feminine authority. As we have already ascertained that female authority is by no means essentially connected with matrilineal and other mother-right customs, it will serve no purpose to point to the fact that the Chucunaque, or the Iroquois, or the Seri Indians, are matrilineal in their descent and inheritance, or matrilocal in marriage, as the case may be. We must seek other reasons.
Speaking of the Chucunaque, Lady Brown says: 2 "Undoubtedly the woman rules the man and is leader. Outside the contoolie, chief, or headmen, her word is law throughout Chucunaque. It matters not whether it is a question of building a new dwelling, getting food, going into the bush for wood, or any other such domestic detail, the man never dreams of making a move unless told to do so by the woman."
Now the picture Lady Brown gives of the Chucunaque Indians depicts them not only as a people whose cultural
1 On this point see my Woman: A Vindication, Chapter "The Old Maid."
2 Unknown Tribes, Uncharted Seas (Duckworth, 1924), p. 155.
Both Lady Brown and Mr. Mitchell-Hedges assured me that the Chucunaque menfolk were hopelessly degenerate, and furthermore that they were almost impotent. Apparently they display a listlessness in all the deepest concerns of life which can be ascribed only to their condition of acute physical decay, and this is accentuated by the many diseases that were found playing havoc among the whole of the population.
It would, of course, be inaccurate to argue that the condition in which Lady Brown and Mr. Mitchell-Hedges found the Chucunaque menfolk is essential to a certain degree of female dominance; for we have no reason to believe that the Iroquois Indians can be compared to the Chucunaque in the matter of sexual impotence and extreme degeneration. But, on the other hand, it is quite obvious that the influence of women, though appreciable, among the Iroquois has been grossly exaggerated. And we have only to read L. H. Morgan's League of the Ho-de'-no-sau-nee, to conclude instantly that these people are as far from even a modified matriarchy as were the early Greeks.
Speaking of the lack of the love-passion among the Iroquois, Morgan says: 3 "A solution of this singular problem is, in part, to be found in the absence of equality in the sexes. The Indians regard women as the inferior, the dependent, and the servant of man, and from custom and habit, she actually considered herself so."
The ritual of male degradation among the Iroquois
1 Op. cit., p. 257.
2 Op. cit., p. 156.
3 Op. cit., p. 323.
All this seems strangely unlike even a modified matriarchy, and how W. H. R. Rivers came to the conclusion that the Iroquois came nearest, with the Seri Indians and the Khasis, to a true matriarchy, is a mystery.
Nevertheless, that a certain amount of male degeneracy may be suspected among the North American Indians, where female prominence is frequently encountered, may be gathered from the fact that the women are so often found to be exceptionally cruel and sadistic.
I have already explained the relationship between female sadism and the free expression of bisexuality in woman, and it is so constantly met with as among the Amazons of Dahomey for instance 3 in conjunction with sexual maladaptation and inadequate mates or an absence of mates, 4 that whenever female cruelty appears accompanied by a certain modicum of female dominance, it is legitimate to suspect sexual or other degeneracy among the men.
From the accounts of travellers, it is perfectly evident that an enormous amount of cruelty is exhibited by the women of the native tribes of America. Let me quote, for instance, Mrs. Mary Eastman, who cannot, I presume, be suspected of any sexual prejudice in the matter.
1 Op. cit., p. 338.
2 Op. cit., p. 331. See also p. 85, ante.
3 See on this point Capt. Sir Richard Burton, Op. cit., Vol. I, p. 112, and Vol. II, p. 49; see also E. Chaudouin, Trois Mois de Captivité au Dahomey, pp. 286, 352. Chaudouin gives a picture even more revolting than Burton of the bestial cruelty of these women.
4 The Amazons of Dahomey were all strictly celibate. So although there was apparently no degeneracy among their menfolk, and no female dominance in Dahomey, these spinster soldiers are only an example of the cultivation of sadism in a body of women doomed to be unmated, and at the same time, through their occupation being allowed full scope for the expression of their bisexuality. On their virginity, see Burton, Op. cit., Vol. II, pp. 469, and 260, and Chaudouin, Op. cit., pp. 322325.
Referring to the Athapuscow Indians, Hearne describes how one woman, without any motive, killed the child of another, and, in a footnote, he adds: "It is too common a case with most of the tribes of Southern Indians for the women to desire their husbands or friends, when going to war, to bring them a slave, that they may have the pleasure of killing it; and some of these inhuman women will accompany their husbands, and murder the women and children as fast as their husbands do the men." 2
Among the Iroquois, it is the women who take hold of the whips and lash the prisoners of war, and as a proof that the whipping is no child's play, the unfortunate victims frequently succumb exhausted at the women's feet, as they run the gauntlet between two rows of these female sadists. Speaking of this practice, Morgan writes: "They [the prisoners of war] were taken to the head of this long line of whips, and were compelled, one after another, to run through it for their lives, and for the entertainment of the surrounding throng, exposed at every step, undefended, and with naked backs, to the merciless inflictions of the whip. Those who fell from exhaustion were immediately dispatched as unworthy to be saved." 3
Morgan then proceeds to explain that the rejected prisoners of war were "led away to the torture and death," 4 but he refrains from giving details of the torture, because, apparently, they are too horrible. It is a pity that he stops at this point, for the suspicion is
1 Dahcotah (1849), pp. 447.
2 A Journey to the Northern Ocean, p. 266. In another footnote on the same page he mentions the case of a girl of sixteen who had this bloodthirsty propensity.
3 Op. cit., pp. 3423.
4 Op. cit., p. 344.
My comment on this and similar instances of extreme and morbid cruelty among women, as also upon the extreme and morbid humanitarianism which in civilized communities is but an inverted form of this cruelty, is either that the mates of such women are inadequate and insufficiently masculine to make the male elements in their womenfolk recessive, or else that such women are compulsory celibates; and in all cases of partial or complete female dominance (the latter, however, is never found) it would be interesting to discover whether this element of morbid cruelty, morbid humanitarianism, or other assertion of latent masculine characters, were not noticeable among the women; because, if it were, we might reasonably conclude, without further inquiry that the ascendancy of the female had occurred through male degeneracy.
At all events, we have now arrived at very significant conclusions, and it will be an advantage to state them as briefly as possible. They are as follows:
(a) That matriarchy, or female rule, is so rare, and, even when it is found, it exists in so modified a form (always a male executive) that as an order of social organization it is negligible. 1
(b) That matrilineal descent and inheritance, and matrilocal marriage customs, are not to be confused with matriarchy, and that the former are very much more often found divorced from partial female dominance than in association with it.
(c) That where partial female dominance is found, the
1 Cf. Sir James Frazer, Adonis, Ottis, Osiris, Vol. II, p. 211: "The theory of gynæcocracy is in truth a dream of visionaries and pedants."
(d) That the cruelty, or self-assertiveness, or masculine pursuits of the female, or all three together, whether in ancient Athens, ancient Rome, France of the eighteenth century, or many tribes of America, 1 is a sign that the male elements of the women have not been made recessive; ergo that they are not adequately mated, and that their males are in some way below a desirable male standard.
It now only remains to sum up, and I cannot do this better than by making two quotations the one from W. H. R. Rivers' article on Mother-Right, already referred to, and the other from Sir James Frazer's Golden Bough.
Rivers says: "Mother-right has often been supposed to imply mother-rule, but in the great majority of the societies which furnish us with examples of mother-right, authority is definitely vested in the male in the father or oldest male as the head of the household, and in the chief or head of the tribe or corresponding social group."
Sir James Frazer writes as follows: 2 "But in order to dissipate misapprehensions which appear to be rife on this subject, it may be well to remind or inform the reader that the ancient and widespread custom of tracing descent and inheriting property through the mother alone does not by any means imply that the government of
1 In Stephen Powers' Tribes of California (Contributions to North American Ethnology, Washington, 1877), Vol. III, Chap. XVII, there is a curious account of the difficulty experienced by the men of the Pomo tribe in ruling their women folk. On p. 158 the author says: "All the devices that savage cunning can invent, all the mysterious and masquerading horrors of devil-raising, all the secret sorceries, the frightful apparitions and bugbears which can be supposed effectual in terrifying the women into virtue and preventing smock treason, are resorted to by the Pomo Leaders." It almost makes one wonder whether there is not perhaps something in the climate of America that is fatal to high male standards being maintained; because it is notorious that modern Americans, who have no blood kinship with the native tribes, are utterly incapable of establishing a proper male attitude to the female.
2 Adonis, Ottis, Osiris, Vol. II, pp. 2089.
- p. 98 -
It is with some reluctance that I refer to this work, because I think it is unworthy of serious consideration. As, however, my omission, if I fail to notice it, is likely in these days to be interpreted as a sign of my disinclination to engage with a successful opponent, I feel bound to discuss it, in the briefest possible way, particularly as it sets in doubt the conclusions arrived at above. And, since better authorities than myself Julian Huxley, for one contrived to give it serious attention, if I sin in mentioning it in these pages, it cannot be said that I do not sin in good company.
In The Dominant Sex, 1 the authors, Mathilde and Mathias Vaerting, advance arguments which all tend to the following conclusion: that when once one of the sexes, whether male or female, becomes dominant and determines conditions of existence for the other, it is the attitude and habit of subjection in the subordinate sex which then proceeds, quite irrespective of innate tendencies, to develop that sex's characteristic virtues and vices. The obvious inference is that, whichever sex happens to become dominant, the other subordinate sex, whether male or female, will develop the virtues and vices which are associated with subordination; and that, therefore, if we admit that men are now the dominant sex say, in modern Europe the virtues and vices of women, far from constituting essentially feminine traits, are merely the features invariably developed by subordinates, whether men or women.
"It is erroneous, therefore," say the Vaertings, "to do what is usually done at the present time, and to
1 English Translation by Eden and Cedar Paul. London, 1923.
And they proceed: "The error presumably arises from a not unnatural identification of the male sex with dominance and of the female sex with subordination. The respective associations have been regarded as inseparable. The extant inequality in the position of men and women has consequently been looked upon as itself an expression of sex differentiation, and a search for additional factors of the inequality has been superfluous. Yet the steady advance of the female sex towards the attainment of equal rights has been enough to show that the foregoing assumption is invalid." 2
Now, quite apart from the difficulty of reconciling such a theory as this with the teaching of both anthropology and history, from which we learn that the disparity between the social positions of male and female in all communities is due in the first place to the unlikeness of their functions in life, 3 and secondly to their different capacity for achievement a difference which is not overcome but only modified, in favour of the female, by male degeneracy there are the following further objections to it: that a true matriarchy, or woman ruled community has, as we have seen, not yet been found, and that even the few approximations to such a state, which have been discovered, exhibit pronounced patriarchal or man-ruling characteristics; that to place the whole onus of sexual character-differentiations upon environmental conditions is to forget those instincts, emotions and mental powers (examined in the previous chapters) which arise from special structures and their corresponding specialized functions; and that the prevalence of matrilineal descent and inheritance, as we
1 Op. cit., p. 17.
2 Op. cit., p. 17.
3 See Spencer, Op. cit., Vol. II, p. 289: "Men and women, being by the unlikeness of their function in life, exposed to unlike influences, begin from the first to assume unlike positions in the community as they do in the family."
But the Vaertings, as may be seen from every page of their book, repeatedly make the assumption, fatal to their hypothesis, that evidence of matrilineal customs is evidence of matriarchy; they also frequently adduce Bachofen in support of their argument, although they are fully aware of what we have claimed, namely, that Bachofen uses the word mother-right in the erroneous sense of female rule; 1 and they themselves often use the word "matriarchy" when they are speaking of merely matrilineal customs, 2 as if a sufficiently constant repetition of an error must make it ultimately acceptable and right.
No amount of juggling with terms and with the facts of ethnography can establish a plausible case for woman dominance. As we have seen, it occurs only exceptionally. There is in fact no perfect example of it. To proceed to derive other conclusions from it, therefore, such as the cultivation in dominant women of every masculine quality that has ever existed, 3 can only be accomplished by imposing on the credulity of the reader.
Furthermore the Vaertings never seem to feel it incumbent upon them to inquire whether the claim of sexual equality in itself is not, as I have attempted to show, perhaps a symptom of something very different from the alleged advance of the female; and, presumably, in inquiring into the customs of the Chucunaque (which, by the by, they were not in a position to discuss), they would have assumed at once from Lady Brown's account not only that the Chucunaque were an instance of female dominance, of true matriarchy, but that there was not
1 Op. cit., p. 19.
2 In speaking of the Garos, for instance (p. 25), they say: "Among the Garos, women were dominant, and family groups were of the matriarchal type, tracing their descent through the mother."
3 Vaertings (Op. cit., p. 21): "We shall show that there is not a single 'masculine quality,' which cannot be paralleled as a 'feminine quality' in the history of one race or another." It need hardly be said that they do not show any such thing.
A last and more grave objection to the book, which makes it all the more surprising that it should have met with serious consideration, is the manner in which the Vaertings produce and marshal the evidence in support of their supposed discovery.
The book is so full of unwarranted assumptions and misleading inferences that it will be quite impossible for me to deal with it as a whole. But I will give a few instances, taken at random, of the kind of suggestio falsi I am referring to, and from these the reader will be able to draw his own conclusions.
On p. 24 the Vaertings say: "By the laws of Manu, a girl is allowed the choice of her husband;" and they adduce this as evidence of the fact that among the ancient Hindus women were dominant.
Now what are the facts?
First of all the Book of Manu lays it down as a principle that, "Day and night women must be kept in dependence by the males of their families . . . her father protects her in childhood, her husband protects her in youth, and her sons protect her in old age; a woman is never fit for independence." 1
Secondly we find in Manu a long list of rules to be observed by a young man in the choice of his mate. "Let him avoid that family (in selecting a wife)," says Manu, "which neglects the sacred rites, one in which no male children (are born), one in which the Veda is not studied, one (the members of) which have thick hair on the body, those which are subject to hæmorrhoids. Let him wed a female free from bodily defects who has an agreeable name, the (graceful) gait of a Hamsa,
Apparently, then, it is the man who must choose!
Again we find Manu saying: "To a distinguished, handsome suitor (of) equal (caste) should (a father) give his daughter in accordance with the prescribed rule,
1 Book of Manu, Chapter IX, verses 2 and 3.
2 Ibid., III, 710.
Now come two verses which certainly give the daughter the right to choose, but only under certain conditions that is to say, if her father has failed to find a husband for her.
"Three years let a damsel wait," says Manu, "though she be marriageable; but after that time let her choose for herself a bridegroom of equal caste." 2 (A very wise measure if we take into account the frequency of jealousy of young men in fathers of daughters!)
"If, being not given in marriage," says Manu, "she herself seeks a husband, she incurs no guilt, nor (does) he whom she weds.
"A maiden who chooses for herself shall not take with her any ornaments given by her father or her mother, or her brothers; if she carries them away, it will be theft." 3
So what it amounts to is this: if her male parent fail in his duty by her, and at the end of a three years' wait have not found her a husband, then she has the right to go out and find one for herself. Even then, however, she is penalized to the extent of being unable to carry with her any ornaments given her by her family, under pain of being accused of theft.
This is very different from the bald statement that "By the laws of Manu a girl is allowed the choice of her husband." But, for the Vaertings' purpose, of course, the bald statement was much more useful, and incidentally much more misleading. The authority they adduce for the bald statement is, by the by, V. Jaeckel's Studien zur vergleichlichenden Völkerkünde (p. 65). But as the Laws of Manu are accessible to all why give a second-hand source?
About the Egyptians, the Vaertings' conclusions are even more astonishing. In the first place they interpret
1 Book of Manu, IX, 88, 89.
2 Ibid., IX, 90.
3 Op. cit., IX, 912.
Then, as a further proof of the dominance of women in Egypt, they quote Diodorus as saying that the man among the Egyptians obeys the woman; 2 but they make no mention of those passages in Diodorus, which would have helped them to correct the impression that the historian gives of these ancient people. For instance, they do not quote Diodorus when he says: 3 "A woman who committed adultery was sentenced to lose her nose, upon the principle that, being the most conspicuous feature and the chief, or at least an indispensable ornament of the face, its loss would be most severely felt, and be the greatest detriment to her personal charm. The man received a bastinado of 1,000 blows. Some of their laws regarding the female sex were cruel and unjustifiable. Women were bastinadoed by a man."
The Vaertings also say of the Egyptians: "But although monogamy prevailed, women had more sexual freedom than
Diodorus, on the other hand, informs us that the Egyptians were not restricted to any number of wives but that every one married as many as he chose, with the exception of the priesthood. 5
Wilkinson, in his history of the Egyptians, 6 tells us that "although the Egyptians generally confined themselves to one wife, they, like the Jews and other Eastern nations,
1 Op. cit., p. 26.
2 Op. cit., p. 28.
3 I. 78.
4 Op. cit., p. 37.
5 I. 80.
6 The Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians, Vol. I, p. 319.
As a confirmation of the view that women had more sexual freedom than men, the Vaertings add: "In Egypt no stigma attached to the mother of an illegitimate child."
Diodorus gives another interpretation of this attitude towards the mother of a child born out of wedlock in Egypt. He says: 1 "No child is regarded as illegitimate, even when it is born of a slave concubine; for according to the popular belief, the father was the unique cause of generation, the mother only supplied it with food and shelter. . . . Thus they gave to the fruit-bearing trees the title male and female to the non-fruit-bearing."
We leave it to the Vaertings to reconcile their own authorities with the view that women dominated in ancient Egypt.
Speaking of the Chippewayans, the Vaertings say: 2 "Waitz relates that among the Chippewas the women took part in the wars, the councils, and the 'Grand Medicine Festivals,' it is evident, therefore, that the sexes had absolutely equal rights." Then, later on, they add: "In the case of the following peoples. Women's states without exception, we are told that the supreme power was wielded by a woman chief: the Creeks, the Dyaks, the Linggans, the Winnebogos, the Bolonda, the Angolans, the Chippewas." 3
It is a pity the Vaertings are so fond of second-hand sources. Why quote Waitz, when we have original descriptions of the Chippewayans? I looked through Waitz, but utterly failed to find any evidence of female dominance, or a Woman state, among the Chippewayans. I will not say that the passage the Vaertings seem to refer to above does not exist in Waitz; all I submit is that I could not find it. On the other hand, I did find the following in Waitz. Speaking of the Chippewayans,
1 I. 89.
2 Op. cit., p. 25.
3 Op. cit., p. 159.
So much for Waitz as a supporter of the plea that women are dominant among the Chippewayans. Now let us turn to the original sources. Mrs. May Eastman, who, if she had been able to anticipate the Vaertings' thesis, would surely not have wished to refute it out of malice prepense, says, in a passage about the Chippewayans: "Early in the morning the Chippeways encamped near St. Anthony's falls; the women took upon themselves all the fatigue and labour of the journey, the men carrying only the implements of war and hunting. The Chippeway chief was the husband of three wives." 3 Speaking of the wives, she says: "He was fond of them, but if they irritated him, by disputing among themselves, or respecting anything which he found necessary to his comfort, he was very violent. Blows were the only arguments he used on such occasions." 4
Referring to the loss of a Chippewayan chief's youngest wife, Mrs. Eastman says: 5 "When the old man heard that Red Stone had gone too, his rage knew no bounds. He beat his two wives almost to death, and would have given his handsomest pipestem to have the faithless one again. His wives moaned all through the night, bruised and bleeding, for the fault of their rival."
Another independent witness, William H. Keating, writing of the Chippewayans, says: "Polygamy is held to be agreeable in the eyes of the Great Spirit, as he that has most children is held in highest estimation; some of the chiefs had nine wives." 6
1 Dr. Theodor Waitz, Anthropologie der Naturvölker (Leipzig, 1862), Vol. III, p. 101.
2 Ibid., p. 101.
3 Op. cit., p. 97.
4 Ibid., p. 195.
5 Ibid., p. 118.
6 Narrative of an Expedition to the Source of St. Peter's River, etc. (1824), Vol. II, p. 155.
Thus there is little first-hand evidence of female dominance among the Chippewayans, and no evidence at all that I could find of this alleged woman chief who wields the supreme power. 2
Of course it is impossible to check everything the Vaertings say in this detailed manner. It would take a volume three times the size of their own to do so adequately. I must, therefore, let the above suffice. From the passages already given, the reader will be able to form his own opinion concerning the reliability of the evidence the authors adduce in support of their thesis. But, before I leave the subject, I must just give this
1 Op. cit., pp. 169170.
2 In attempting to demonstrate female dominance among another North American tribe, the Iroquois, the Vaertings say: "In the case of the Iroquois, polyandry was permissible to women, but polygamy was forbidden to men (Westermarck)." (Op. cit., p. 20.) Now, if the reader will look at pp. 92, 93, ante, he will see Morgan's own flat contradiction of this statement (Morgan being one of our greatest authorities on the Iroquois), and will also observe how far from female dominance the Iroquois actually were. If, however, in spite of the absence of any mention of the volume or page against Westermarck's name in the Vaertings' book, the reader will take the trouble to discover the passage to which the authors refer, he will find in Vol. III, p. 108, of the History of Human Marriage that the alleged sanction of polyandry, and prohibition of polygamy, refers only to the Seneca branch of the Iroquois, and it is reported by a man who is obviously misusing the word gynæcocracy (Father Lafitau); and on p. 196 he will see that Westermarck accepts the evidence of the phenomenon with caution and says, "it may, however, be only Lafitau's own inference." But to ordinary readers, the name of Westermarck against the statement seems sufficient authority for it, and unless their suspicions have already been aroused by other passages in the book, they are likely to pass on, secure in their belief that Westermarck's scholarship is a sufficient guarantee of the reliability of this fresh fact in favour of the Vaertings' thesis.
Referring to the warrior women of Dahomey, the Vaertings say, 1 "These warrior women regarded men as cowards and weaklings. When reproaching one another for cowardice or weakness they would say: 'You are a man!'"
There is no authority given for this statement, so we presume that the Vaertings were "told" about it, or that they found it in Waitz, or perhaps in Jaeckel. It is a pity, however, that they do not say where they found it, for one of our greatest authorities on Dahomey tells us exactly the reverse.
"The King [of Dahomey]," says Capt. Sir Richard Burton, "has repeatedly said to me that a woman is still a woman. And when the Amazons boast that they are not women but men, they stand self-corrected of the fact that, however near to equality, etc." 2
If the warrior women of Dahomey boasted that they were not women but men, they could hardly have used the word "man" as a term of abuse. From my study of first-hand sources relating to Dahomey, I am led very much to doubt the Vaertings' statement about the Amazons, and, in view of the nature of the rest of their evidence, am inclined to reject it without further ado. 3
I could go on for a good while longer taking exception
1 Op. cit., p. 175.
2 Op. cit.. Vol. II, p. 48.
3 Take, for instance, the Vaertings' insistence on the fact that the ancient Teutons were "matriarchal." On what do they chiefly base their conclusion? They say (Op. cit., p. 25): "Lamprecht has positively proved that matriarchy existed among the early Teutons," and mention certain facts about the women wooing the men, etc. But who is Lamprecht, and what does it matter that he too should misuse the word matriarchy? Listen to what our best authority on the ancient Teutons says of their women: "Adulteries were very few for the number of the people. Punishment is prompt and is the husband's prerogative: her hair close-cropped, stripped of her clothes, her husband drives her from his house in presence of his relatives and pursues her with blows through the length of the village. For prostituted chastity there is no
In a communication to The Spectator on the subject, I wrote: "The general tendency to-day is to try at all costs to achieve, and to believe in, the equality of the sexes. If, therefore, the virtues and vices hitherto associated with both sexes respectively may be shown to be purely adventitious and not essential to their physiological functions and the instincts and desires which arise out of them . . . one more obstacle in the path of perfect sex equality is removed. The Vaertings come along and conveniently offer to remove that obstacle with their work, The Dominant Sex, and we have no doubt that they will get a wide and sympathetic hearing." 2
pardon; beauty nor youth nor wealth will find her a husband." (Tacitus, Germania, C. 18, Loeb Classical Library.) Those who know the Vaertings' thesis will perceive how hopelessly this passage conflicts with their claim that the early Teutons were matriarchal.
1 It is only fair to Prof. Julian Huxley to say that, although he gave The Dominant Sex his serious attention, his review of the book was far from favourable, and that he did his best, in the space at his disposal, to question its main conclusions. (See The Spectator, Sept. 15, 1923.)
2 The Spectator, September 29, 1923.